Democrats scrambling

Candidates sought to face 4 GOP incumbent county councilmen


Democrats find themselves in the unusual position of scrambling to find candidates to challenge the four Republican incumbents in Anne Arundel County Council races this fall.

And in the three remaining districts - in North and West county, plus the Annapolis area - Democrats have primary fights before reaching the November general election.

One battleground is council District 1, in the northern tier of the county, where the candidates are seeking the seat being vacated by Democrat Pamela G. Beidle. The diverse district includes businesses, a tangle of highways, Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, areas under development and housing ranging from densely packed neighborhoods to rural settings.

Community activist and systems analyst Richard "Rik" Forgo, 40, and political activist and lawyer Daryl Jones, 41, are vying for the Democratic nomination.

"I expect it to be a close race. I will work hard to win the post," Forgo said.

"Every race is a hard-fought race," Jones said.

The winner will face Republican lawyer John E. Lindner, 46, who started running 13 months ago.

District 1 has not elected a Republican to the council in recent memory, giving the Democrats a distinct edge.

"I know I'm outnumbered 2-to-1 in registration," Lindner said. "But I am campaigning."

C. Edward Middlebrooks II, a Republican currently unopposed in his bid for a second term on the council from neighboring District 2, said Lindner may have an uphill battle. But he added, "I think if you run the right campaign, it's doable."

Middlebrooks is in a largely Democratic, Glen Burnie-centered district. He was on the council when he switched from Democrat to Republican in 1994. He won a state Senate race that year, then lost four years later. But in 2002, he captured the council seat again. He said voters are attuned to who they think will do the best job, especially in political matters close to home.

The failure to field more council candidates by last Monday's filing deadline has set Ann Marie Remillard, the leader of the county's Democratic Central Committee, hunting for contenders who would have not only the uphill task of running against sitting officials, but the disadvantage of starting less than four months before November's general election.

"I just called someone and said, `Are you willing to fall on the sword?'" Remillard said.

Young Democrats in particular, she said, could use this as an opportunity to win name recognition for seeking office in coming years.

By the central committee's July 13 meeting, she hopes to have a late-entrant list for appointment. State law allows political central committees to add candidates that way by July 18.

"The mere fact that they don't have anybody out there campaigning is very good for us," said Chuck Gast, head of the Anne Arundel County Republican Central Committee.

That gives County Council incumbents Middlebrooks in District 2, Ronald C. Dillon Jr. in District 3, Cathleen M. Vitale in District 5 and Edward R. Reilly in District 7 an advantage.

"I don't want to give them a free ride," Remillard said.

Those blanks on the ballot resulted from an oversight, Remillard said, in which her central committee members thought other Democratic leaders were looking out for those seats. But the party does not have a philosophy to ensure that every Republican candidate is opposed, said state Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, a five-term Democrat from District 31 who is retiring.

The increasingly conservative county has been a target of Republicans in recent years. They have made tremendous strides in registration and candidate recruitment.

In many Democratic strongholds in Maryland, the GOP did not field candidates but has filled all but one spot on the long ballot in Anne Arundel County.

Republicans hope to fill that slot, which is for a legislative district shared with Prince George's County, and are working with party leaders in that heavily Democratic area to try to recruit a candidate, Gast said.

In the past, Democrats have not fielded candidates in other Anne Arundel local races in which Republicans were strong.

Dan Nataf, head of the Center for the Study of Local Issues at Anne Arundel Community College, said that conventional wisdom is that any candidate's name is better than having no Democrat on the ballot.

"And then Republicans will win by astounding numbers, which invigorate the Republicans who will think they are an ascendant party," Nataf said.

The reason for a lack of candidates against the incumbents on the council may have any of a number of reasons.

It could be a "failure-to-launch thing," a reluctance of Democrats to put in the shoe-leather time because of work or family commitments or lack of interest, he said. But it also could be that the two-term limit on the council is leading people to wait for seats to open.

"Maybe they keep their gunpowder dry for four years and use your ammunition then," Nataf said.

"An open seat is an inspiration." Remillard said.

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